The older you get, the more tenuous rock’s obsessions with extended adolescence and rebellion can feel. That’s an implicit lesson of Michael Rank’s move from the grimy, Stones-heavy oomph of Snatches of Pink to the understated, circumspect acoustics of Stag three years ago. For Rank, the fight was suddenly less important than the feeling.

The counterpart to last October’s Mermaids, Deadstock is Rank’s third album with Stag in less than two years. Where Mermaids was a bitter, bereft breakup, Deadstock is the archetypal finding-my-way-alone follow-upless emotionally pitched but deeper and more searching. Rank looks to “Burn the Page,” find a way to quiet his “Idle Hands,” and worries painfully that it’s a “Little Late for Me.”

Like the Wizard of Oz, Rank’s stature is smaller without the shield of a rock ‘n’ roll curtain. As his hushed croon pushes against pedal steel wail, trilling mandolin and mournful fiddle, the once-cocksure frontman seems more vulnerable, open. In this diminished state, he actually finds more power.

There’s a sweet Sunday morning vibe as Rank wonders why things fail on the wonderful “This World on Fire.” The Band-like ballad “The Stars Were Brighter” opens with a rainbow, but Rank quickly warns “things can change here without warning.” This sense of regret-laden acceptance crests during “Son,” a slow-dragging strummer. “I did all I could … [but] some things are better unopened,” he offers. “Don’t fight the grain in the wood.”

Deadstock‘s true strength lies primarily in how its pieces cohere. Taken together, the songs evoke a quiet and grey landscape, offering more promise of dawn than actual light. After years of decadent bluster and life blunder, Rank sounds fortunate to have found a place of steady if hard-won resolve.

Label: self-released

This article appeared in print with the headline “On hardcore pranksters, hip-hop revivals and more.”